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Britain scraps algorithm for student exam grades after outcry over fairness

School-leaving qualifications for tens of thousands of British students will be readjusted once again after an outcry over proposals to replace exams that were cancelled because of the coronavirus.

Nearly two-fifths of students studying A-levels, the main qualification offered by schools in England, had found their grades were reduced from what their teachers had predicted they would achieve.

School leaving qualifications are widely used as entry criteria for British universities, but the cancellation of this year’s exams meant an alternative system was required.

English education authorities introduced a controversial computer algorithm that sought to moderate teachers’ predictions, preventing them from awarding “implausibly high” marks to their pupils.

Similar systems were put in place for schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the algorithm’s perceived unfairness united students, parents and teachers in outrage, prompting Scottish education authorities to abandon it last week.

Other parts of the United Kingdom announced on Monday that they were doing the same.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who is responsible for schools in England, said the algorithm had produced “significant inconsistencies” and that all students would be awarded the grade their teachers predicted they would achieve.

Students who were awarded a higher grade by the algorithm last week will be allowed to keep it.

“This was causing anxiety for young people, it was putting an administrative burden on teachers at a time when they needed to be preparing for a new school term,” said Roger Taylor, the chairman of the English education regulator Ofqual.

“Seeing this we realised we had taken the wrong road here and we needed to change course.”

But there was concern that some students will have missed out on preferred university courses beginning next month because of the lower grades awarded.

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